NOTE: The information displayed in this section has been obtained from various sources. In no way should any information obtained here be taken as legal advice. If you are in need of legal assistance please contact your attorney. If you can not afford an attorney please contact your local Legal Aid office.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
Under Florida law, domestic violence means an assault, a battery, certain sexual abuse, a kidnapping, a false imprisonment, committed by one member of a family or household by another person in the same family or household. Generally, any such act is domestic violence if the person committing the act either resides in the same home with the victim or resided in the same home with the victim at sometime in the past. There is an important exception for two people who have a child together. In that case, one of the two people can be guilty of domestic violence against the other even if they never lived together and even if they were never married. The most common types of domestic violence include the following actions:
- Assault: An assault occurs when one person threatens to do bodily harm to another person in a way which causes the victim to fear that the first person has the immediate ability to carry out the threat. Examples of an assault include the raising of a fist against another person during an argument in a way which suggest that a striking is about to occur, brandishing a weapon such as a gun or a knife, threatening to hit a person while waiving around a stick or other object which could be used as weapon and throwing an object in the direction of another person even if the other person is not hit with the object.
- Battery: A battery occurs when one person intentionally strikes another person against that person’s will. Typical examples of a battery include pushing, slapping, kicking, punching, choking and beating. A battery can also occur when one person throws an object at another person, and the second person is actually struck with the object.
- Stalking: Stalking occurs when there is a repeated pattern of actions which serve no legitimate purpose and which cause harassment or repeated annoyance to the victim. Typically, a stalking occurs when one person repeatedly calls the victim by telephone after being told not to do so; repeatedly writes letters to the victim after being told not to do so; leaves notes or gifts for the victim under circumstances in which it should be obvious that such notes or gifts are not wanted or repeatedly visits or passes by the residence or workplace of the victim when the perpetrator has no legitimate reason to be at the home or business. Staking most often occurs when two people have separated following a romantic relationship, and one of the people attempts to resume the relationship against the wishes of the other. It is also important to realize that the law does not treat every argument between two people as domestic violence. For example, if one person threatens another over the telephone, the law generally does not regard that threat as an assault under the domestic violence law because the person making the threat generally has no immediate ability to carry out that threat. If, however, the telephone threats are repeated in a way that forms a pattern of harassment, the telephone threats can become a stalking which could be domestic violence under the law. In any case which there is a question of whether or not the actions of another person constitute domestic violence under Florida law, a person should seek the immediate assistance of a law enforcement officer.
Domestic Violence is normally not an isolated event. If intervention by some legal means does not occur, domestic violence attends to repeat itself over and over again. In cases of repeated domestic violence, the violent acts also tend to increase in severity as time goes on. There is a characteristic of domestic violence which is known as “the cycle of violence“. In this cycle, a violent act occurs and the parties may separate. After a brief period, the person who committed the act of violence comes to the victim and pleads for forgiveness. The perpetrator may also say that he or she truly loves or has affection for the victim and promises that the violence will not occur in the future. The victim, perhaps wanting to keep a family or household unit intact, then asks the victim to return home. There is then a period of reconciliation which ends with another violent act which occurs when tensions between members of the family arise once again.
The cycle of violence is often affected by the consumption of alcoholic beverages or the use of illegal drugs. Victims of domestic violence must often wrestle with fears of fear, loyalty, guilty and shame. If the parties have children, the children also live in fear. Those children can be at a high risk of becoming either abusive adults or victims of domestic violence during their adult lives. Victims of domestic violence may feel that they are socially and financially isolated, and they often live out their lives in fear without being aware that help is available. There are shelters where victims and their children can go to escape violence. There are vocational programs which can provide victims with the skills to obtain employment and there are support groups ready to help with emotional support and understanding. Many local law enforcement agencies have domestic violence advocates as part of their staff, and anyone who may be a victim of domestic violence should contact local law enforcement if they have any questions.HELP IS AVAILABLE
(a) Domestic Violence is a Crime. Anyone who is the victim of domestic violence, particularly an assault, a battery, sexual abuse or stalking, should make a report to local law enforcement. If the violent acts in question meet the requirements of law, the person committing the violent acts can be arrested and charged with a crime in connection with the domestic violence. Depending on the severity of the offense, that person can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony and can be subject to imprisonment, probation and/or a fine. If criminal charges are made, the accused person can also be ordered by the criminal court judge to have no contact with the victim until the case is resolved.
(b) Injunctions/Restraining Orders. A victim of domestic violence or any person who believes that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence also has the right to ask for a court order known as an “injunction for protection”. This type of injunction is also commonly called a restraining order. Under Florida law, the victim has the right to ask for an injunction for protection by filing a petition with the Clerk of the Court. This can be done by going to any local courthouse. The person seeking the injunction is not required to have an attorney. There will be no filing fee for a petition seeking an injunction for protection against domestic violence.